Poker is one of the world’s favorite games. The basic rules of the game make it both easy to learn and infinitely customizable. Poker involves a lot of player skill – it’s gambling without relying as much on luck as you do with other casino games.
Poker is now considered a sport, accepted by mainstream audiences to the point that media coverage had to change to reflect renewed interest in the game. Broadcasters like ESPN and The Travel Channel started giving prime air space to poker tournaments and events in the early 2000s.
If you’re new to the game and confused about all the different variants, I have good news for you. It won’t take you long to get acquainted with the different games and rule variations.
A Note on Names
To understand the major variants of poker, start by learning the names of the three basic categories of poker variants:
In stud games, you are dealt a specific number of cards (normally five or seven) and the goal is to form the best possible hand out of those you’re dealt.
In draw games, you are dealt a specific number of cards (normally five or seven) and the goal is to trade some for new cards in order to build a better hand than the one you’re dealt.
In community games, each player gets “hole cards” dealt exclusively to them face down and the goal is to build the best hand they can from a select number of community cards common to all players.
Texas holdem was responsible for the explosion of interest in poker in the late 90s and early 2000s. It is still the game of choice for the World Series of Poker and most professional tournaments. Texas holdem is also the standard-bearer for poker in the online world, by far the most popular variant at the world’s biggest Web-based rooms.
This is a community game in which each player is dealt two hole cards and bid as each of five community cards is revealed.
The game involves four betting rounds: one after the hole cards are dealt, again after the first three community cards are revealed (this is called “the flop”), once more after the fourth community card is revealed, and finally after the fifth community card is shown. You can use any five-card combination of your hole cards plus the five community cards as your best-possible hand.
Omaha was once a gambling mecca, similar to a frontier-era Las Vegas. Because of the town’s association with vice and gambling, it has been used in the names of a variety of different games of chance and skill over the years. Omaha holdem
This is another community game (like Texas holdem) in which the goal is to build the best five-card hand from two hole cards and three of the game’s community cards. The main differences between Omaha and Texas holdem is the fact that Omaha players are dealt four hole cards instead of two (and are forced to use exactly two of them). The five community cards are also revealed immediately, which leads to some major differences in strategy.
7 Card Stud
Stud poker has an interesting history in the United States. Apparently, the five-card versions was incredibly popular among soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. All modern stud games, including the popular seven-card variant, can trace their roots back to these simple pastimes among bored soldiers.
This is a stud game in which layers are dealt a total of seven cards but use only their best five to determine the winner. A big difference between this game and the community games above is that it’s usually played with a strict betting limit structure. That means players can only bet in strict increments.
I have an old copy of Hoyle’s Rules (the title page says it was printed in 1968) which says that seven card stud is “the most popular poker game in the world,” thanks to its use as the base game of thousands of home-rules games at that time. Though Texas holdem has overtaken seven-card stud even in home games, the variant is still played in casinos and tournaments to this day.
5 Card Draw
Lots of people consider this the most traditional poker variant. It takes seconds to learn but still involves a good deal of strategy. This is also the first poker game many people learn as a kid, and it forms the basis for a ton of other popular poker variants, including all video poker titles.
This is a draw game in which each player is dealt five cards and has one opportunity to improve their hand by discarding and replacing up to three cards.
The game usually starts with an ante round. Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player says how many cards they want to draw and makes the discard. Play moves clockwise. Another betting round occurs. Once all bets are settled, the last player to place a bet shows his hand. The best five-card hand wins the pot.
The most popular variant based on simple five-card draw is also the standard game used on video poker terminals – Jacks or Better. The only difference between Jacks or Better and five-card draw is that in Jacks or Better, only pairs better than a pair of tens (hence the name) can open betting.